I’ve been doing ritual magick in some form since I first bought Don Kraig’s Modern Magick 20 years ago. Much of that was based in Golden Dawn derived ritual, performed alone for my personal benefit in the dark corner of wherever I happened to live. Early group rituals were largely impromptu, and with small groups of no more than 6 people.
In college, I became involved with a student group that had Sabbat rituals, and I participated in and facilitated some of those, which generally had around a dozen people. I’ve worked with other groups having about the same or fewer participants, and usually enjoyed positive results.
Group ritual was a different kind of buzz for me, but it had more to do with the quality of energies coming from different people than the magnitude of energy coming from a group. Holding a position in such a ritual didn’t usually feel much different than doing a similar ritual by myself.
When I first started attending Heartland Pagan Festival, I was unsure of the large public rituals that were held. The first year I skipped them altogether. The next time I came, it was with a cautious eye to the ritual, as the previous year’s (I did not attend that year) had caused significant consternation among several attendees. The rituals that I attended were largely ritual theater with some participation from the audience, but they were well planned and though provoking enough to provide me with a significant experience that I was able to take back. My personal experience was more similar to a guided meditative one, which was amplified because it was in a group setting, but still very personal.
I’m not attempting to critique the rituals, but rather describe the experience of participation for me. Point is that in the big group rituals, I felt like I was being guided in a particular way. In my own personal work, I was the agent or magical action. In the smaller group work, we were acting together to a common goal. But in that big ritual, others directed me toward something I didn’t necessarily see at the time.
This year, I was privileged to be asked onto the Spiritual Experience Committee, which among other tasks writes, develops, and performs the group rituals at the festival. I was pretty happy with the rituals we put on, and I like to think they were well received, but that’s a whole other matter. What impressed me was the difference in how it felt to perform such large rituals and bring a couple hundred people through them.
There were three rituals in the arch. At their most basic levels, the first cleared away outside concerns to bring people fully into the festival, the second featured the spreading of knowledge among the crowd, and the third asked participants to ponder how they would express this new knowledge when they left.
My ritual actions were largely confined to my particular elemental quarter (Water) and the attendees around it. My personal focus was on my particular tasks, and that in itself was interesting, because in other ritual work I was always more aware of the total goal of the work, even when I had just one role. In this case, I performed my tasks and trusted that my co-ritualists did the same, feeling their energy melt with mine in a way I hadn’t experienced before. This is the first time I played a part while being energetically linked to the whole, but not fully directing it. Through the invocations and the joint activity, the ritual seemed to come together as a whole around me, its own egrigore using me a a puppet to acheive its goal.
Stirring the energy of that many participants wasn’t nearly as difficult or draining as I thought it would be. (Turns out playing Water comes pretty natural to me, and tossing around Big Energy is easy when you have elemental powers riding you.) But what was interesting was the take-away: I was involved in the same ritual as many other people, but in facilitating their experience mine was vastly different. In a sense, my ritual experience was second hand: only in guiding them through their cathartic experiences was I able to have one of my own.
I’ve acted as a guide for people before, and I’ve entered into the Between Place many times to effect change for myself. But here I was acting in a mix of those roles for a large number of people. And that was the trick — establishing enough of a link to that many people that I didn’t know, having an intimate experience with a couple hundred strangers, and shoving them (gently!) along the direction we wanted them to go.
I’m rambling a little bit, in part because I’m still coming down from the experience. But the bottom line is that this kind of “leadership/guide” role in ritual is something completely different from anything I’ve attempted, mostly because of the scale. And it wasn’t something anyone has talked to me about. But it was something that my previous work somehow prepared me for.
I’ve been told that in order to truly attain mastery you have to teach. I still think that’s true to some degree. But I also think that this kind of work is on that same level. It is something so different and powerful that experiencing it is its own rite of passage.